Turkey’s defense chief has warned that forces loyal to Libya’s renegade general Khalifa Haftar would become “legitimate targets” if they attacked Turkish troops in the North African country.
“A war criminal, murderer Haftar and his supporters must know that they will be seen as a legitimate target in case of any attack on Turkish forces,” Hulusi Akar said in an address to Turkish armed units in the Libyan capital of Tripoli late on Saturday.
The remarks were made available to media on Sunday.
Libya descended into fresh chaos last year after the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) under Haftar’s command moved toward Tripoli to seize the capital. The offensive was repelled by Libyan government forces.
The conflict has since escalated into a regional proxy war fueled by foreign powers pouring weapons and mercenaries into the country.
Ankara has been propping up the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) against Haftar forces, which are being backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan and France.
This year, the Turkish support again dashed Haftar’s hopes of capturing the capital, something that his troops had been trying to achieve for 14 months. Following the setback, the warlord’s side was forced to strike a deal with the GNA.
On Thursday, however, Haftar issued vocal threats against Turkey.
There would be “no peace in the presence of a colonizer on our land,” he said, referring to Turkey. He also claimed that his forces would “prepare to drive out the occupier by faith, will, and weapons” in another reference to Ankara’s forces.
The Turkish minister, however, said, “If they take such a step, they will be unable to find any place to flee to.”
“Everyone should come to their senses,” he said, adding, “What matters here is that everyone should contribute to a political solution. Any action other than that would be wrong.”
In addition to lending military support to the GNA, Turkey has been engaging in talks with Russia for a solution to the conflict between the warring sides.
Libya has been grappling with unchecked violence since the overthrow of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 during an operation backed by the Western alliance of NATO.